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How can I best support my child during exam period?

During this period of the term, students undoubtedly are trying their best to hold up against exam pressure. Both students and parents will be anxious and weary, and tensions definitely rise to new levels in the household.

Whilst parents’ attempts to boost competitive spirit, they must also be attentive and nurturing in these stressful times. Below are 4 tips for supporting your son or daughter:

Tip #1. Know their exam schedule

Have a copy of the exam timetable on your Outlook Calendar or diary and gently remind your son or daughter as the exam is approaching. It is this time that you can help your child create a study timetable to ensure there is sufficient time to revise and prepare for the subjects. Take into consideration that daily routines and roles can be temporarily forgo

Don’t persistently badger your child that they haven’t done their share of the chores or run the errands. Ease off the routine household duties and give them flexibility to manage their time.

Tip #2. Set up goals and realistic expectations

Gently encourage your son or daughter to open up to discuss about their goals and expectations for their exam? How are they feeling? What is their goal and how are they setting off to achieve it? Whilst this also allows your child to reflect on their progress, it also helps you get a general understanding of how much work needs to be put in to achieve their goals. Discuss with them how they’d like you to support them and figure out an action plan that could involve both of you.

Tip #3. Be there when your son or daughter needs someone to talk to.

At school or during their revision, your child may run into bumps with their work and may feel stressed and anxious about their progress. It is important to be a pillar of support. Do not be tempted to carefully review their mistakes in the practice papers or essays. Doing this only increases their frustration and stress levels. Instead, allow the time for your child to tell you their struggles and worries and provide them with emotional comfort.

Tip #4. Help them maintain a balanced daily routine

As important as studying is for your son and daughter during exam time, make sure that they have a proper balance between work and rest. After every strenuous study session, they need time to rest and recharge. Ensure your child has nutritious food and enough sleep. Encourage your child to go outside, breathe some fresh air and do some exercise together!

Remember, always be aware of any signs that could indicate that your child is suffering from exam stress including the inability to concentrate, little to no sleep, upset stomachs, headaches, expressions of hopelessness and anxiety. Being available for emotional support and encouraging your child to talk about their feelings is of particular importance.

You don’t need to do it alone! Having an Alchemy tutor will give your child all the support they need to perform at their best in and out of exam time. An Alchemy tutor is a partner, someone to work alongside you and your family to ensure your child’s academic progress – giving you less stress, more quality family time and a happier home. Learn more and book your child’s first lesson with an Alchemy tutor here.

By Katherine Bai, an Alchemy tutor

Does exercise boost mental health?

In short, the answer is yes, exercise absolutely improves mental health.

This exercise does not have to mean serious heart-pumping, limbs aching sort of exercise, but can include aerobic exercises such as light jogging, swimming, cycling, walking and even gardening. All of these have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and alleviates feelings of low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Those who exercise regularly will feel increased energy levels during the day, better sleep at night, heightened awareness of senses and moods, more relaxed and positive and a deep impact on their mental health. As per research done by Harvard’s School of Public Health, running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Exercise promotes changes in the brain including reduced inflammation, neural growth and releases endorphins.

Exercise also can be a distraction to the very hard math problem that just cannot be solved or a densely complicated related text for English class. It allows for quiet time to break the cycle of unproductivity or negative thoughts of giving up. For students feeling stressed, burnt-out or unmotivated, give exercising a fair go! Starting can be tough and giving up for sure seems like a very appealing option at times.

Here are four tips for pushing through with a regular exercise routine:

  1. Ask yourself “why am I doing this?” You are more likely to continue with an activity if it holds value and important in your life. Finding the reason for exercising that resonates with you will be a main source of motivation to get you back on track!
  2. Start small. Setting small goals and slowly build as you feel more confident and motivated by your skills and accomplishments!
  3. Do something you enjoy. Picking an exercise that’s enjoyable shows a higher chance of you to continue with it. Rather than dreading it, you’ll be looking forward to exercising and will reap more rewards with a positive mindset.
  4. Set goals and monitor your progress. Each session is more purposeful when you’re moving with a purpose or goal. By tracking your progress, you will feel heightened senses of accomplishment, motivation and confidence as you tackle obstacles and smash personal bests!

Remember, the hardest part is starting. Don’t feel disheartened if your schedule for a particular week means you miss your exercise routine, pick it back up the next week and only look ahead!

By Katherine Bai, An Alchemy Tutor

How to succeed in HSC Maths

Most students choose a math subject for their HSC, whether that be Mathematics Standard, Mathematics Advanced, Mathematics Extension 1 or even Mathematics Extension 2! Regardless of the level of you decide to take, maths is a subject requiring constant practice and repetition of previous concepts.

The first step to succeeding in maths is to choose the right level for you.
Usually, this depends on two things: the level of math you completed in Years 9 and 10, and your future university or career plans.

Generally speaking, students who completed Mathematics 5.3 are suitable for Mathematics Advanced or Extension, whereas those who completed Mathematics 5.2 or below are more suited to Mathematics Standard. However, this is not always the case. For example, I studied Mathematics 5.3 in Years 9 and 10 and started off doing Mathematics Advanced in Year 11. Unfortunately, I began to experience a sharp decline in my marks throughout the year as a result of poor teaching as well as being unable to balance the workload with my other subjects and extra-curricular activities. Towards the end of Year 11, I decided it was best to change to Mathematics Standard, and it was definitely the right decision! I was able to spend an equal amount of time on all my subjects and found the content more manageable as it was familiar from previous years.

It also is important to consider your future plans when deciding which level of maths to take. For example, engineering courses at university would require Mathematics Extension 1, and most commerce courses would have Mathematics Advanced as a prerequisite.

Keeping up to date with homework is essential for succeeding in maths in the HSC. Even if you choose a maths course that you find straightforward, it is necessary to do your homework on a regular basis, preferably every day, to ensure that you don’t fall behind. The next most important part is to mark your own homework, because what is the point of doing homework if you have no idea where you went wrong? Check your work for common errors or mistakes, and redo those questions. If you still don’t know how to complete the difficult questions, ask a teacher or tutor for help!

At Alchemy, we specialise in one-on-one HSC Maths tutoring for students of all levels. Our tutors are the best at what they do and will partner with you to help you perform at your best in the HSC. Get in touch today to see how we can help you get the ATAR of your dreams.

By Emily Diamant, an Alchemy tutor

Guide To Writing A Band 6 HSC English Essay

There’s often a preconceived notion about succeeding in HSC English, with students believing that performing well in English is a result of being “naturally” good at English. This futility heightens when they receive a low mark for an English essay, convincing themselves that, “I’m just not good at English.”

This, however, is just not the case. Here’s a guide on how you can successfully write a band 6 HSC English essay.

How to structure your essay?

The generic essay structure – introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion – is the one to follow! As arbitrary as it may seem, this structure must be followed. Usually, there are 3 body paragraphs to an essay, with each body paragraph focusing on a different idea or theme; however, may vary depending on if you’ve been told to add a related text or have been instructed otherwise by your teacher.

Figure out your thesis – what argument are you trying to make? Do you want to agree or disagree with what the essay question is implying? Keep in mind that you are allowed to disagree; in fact, it helps you stand out if you do. However, you must do it effectively – ensuring that you do not get side tracked and are answering the question with sufficient evidence.

Writing an effective introduction – the first sentence of your introduction should be indicative of your thesis, e.g. if you are going to be agreeing with the stance presented by the essay question or disagreeing with it. Apart from the basics to include in the introduction – the name of the prescribed text and the author – it is also essential to present the ideas and themes that you will be presenting within the following body paragraphs. Context can also be useful to include within your introduction – indicating to the marker your deep understanding of the text, and the relevance of the text’s context to contemporary society.

Body paragraphs – an effective body paragraph follows the PEEL rule:

  • Point – your key point, i.e. an introductory sentence to present forward the key idea within your body paragraph. This is essentially your thesis, but linked to the specific idea explored within your body paragraph.
  • Evidence – the evidence to back up your claims! It’s typical to include at least three pieces of evidence within one body paragraph to support your argument; however, the specific number of quotations or other evidence isn’t super important as long as you provide sufficient evidence and analysis to support your thesis.
  • Elaboration – where you support your evidence with further explanation, i.e. analysis: what is the purpose of a specific technique being utilised? What effect does it have on the narrative? On the reader?
  • Link – This is the concluding sentence of your body paragraph, where it is essential to reiterate the key ideas of the body paragraph back to the thesis.

Apart from these four key aspects, it might also be useful to present any other information (apart from evidence and analysis) that is relevant in linking your thesis to the introductory statement of your body paragraph. This may be, for example, context or any key plot points of your prescribed text.

Conclusion – summarising the ideas you have presented within your three body paragraphs! No new ideas, themes or information is to be presented in your conclusion – everything you include must have already been discussed within your essay. Your conclusion doesn’t need to be lengthy – 2-3 lines is sufficient.

Whilst these tips may be helpful, you can’t master the art of HSC English essays overnight – practice, practice and practice is key!

Engaging Students in Creative Writing

Re-igniting the creative spark

In our modern world, it can be increasingly difficult to conserve the innate creativity that we are born with. School curriculums all around the world continue to encourage more of a STEM focus, often neglecting the skills and instincts necessary within the arts and humanities. We now know that creativity can be developed, however it must be practised regularly. In teaching students creative writing, we must encourage them to use their imagination. Unfortunately, imagination often becomes less of a focus as students progress through their schooling. This can make creative writing very difficult, particularly as students mature.

The problem of writer’s block

Generating ideas is a key aspect of writing that many students find troublesome. The planning process is pivotal to successful creative writing. Giving students a step by step process to follow, even if only in the early stages, before they become more confident, can help to minimise writer’s block. Many students work better with structured, methodical style thinking, and this is often why they find creative writing so challenging. It can seem quite overwhelming having so much freedom with minimal guidelines. Whilst we should encourage students to enjoy this freedom, they may find some step-by-step rules reassuring to begin with. In this scenario, NAPLAN-style stimulus may be useful in the early stages.

Adapting to different learning styles 

Every student will benefit from a different style of learning, whether with regards to creative writing or any other subject. As tutors, teachers or parents, if we can anticipate this in advance, we can individually tailor our approach to each child’s needs. 

Many students are visual learners, meaning that they will have a better grasp of concepts when they see related written words, pictures or videos. In creative writing, we can have visual learners draw pictures to bring their ideas to life. These learners may also find the ‘mind map’ method to be useful. This will help to organise their thoughts, visualising their ideas and using their imagination, before the writing process even commences. 

Contrastingly, some tutors may find their students achieve more clarity when they vocalise their ideas. Oral learners will gain confidence by conversing aloud, bridging the gap between their imagination and the page. Sometimes, these individuals in particular struggle with commencing the writing process. However, by simply expressing themselves aloud, sorting through their mental clutter, they can self-regulate and find the answers to their own questions.

Finally, kinesthetic learners will prefer to be left alone with their thoughts, pen and paper. This is the way they organise their thinking. In the same sense, their learning style is quite visual. By writing out all the chaotic thoughts and ideas running through their minds, they achieve clarity. It is often these kinds of learners who find writing to come more naturally, as they can avoid the detour of bridging steps that are necessary for other learning styles. 

Encouraging creativity in older students 

As students mature, particularly entering into their high school years, it can be difficult to preserve their enthusiasm towards creative writing. They are starting to leave behind the ‘make-believe’ world they have been living in, becoming more realistic, sometimes even cynical. Older students may begin to feel that fictional writing is pointless (realising that the short story about a dragon that they wrote in year three will probably never be published…). We really need to give them the opportunity to feel that they have a voice, that they are writing for a purpose. Similarly, the more we encourage reading, the more students will feel stimulated by thought-provoking material. Conversation is so important at this age; older students need to feel heard and respected aloud, in order to feel that their writing has value too.

Does your child love creative writing? Would you like to see them exercising their creative muscles more? Alchemy is a NSW Creative Kids provider, offering a one-on-one creative writing course FREE with the NSW Creative Kids Voucher. Learn more here.

By Gudrun Drake, an Alchemy tutor